"The kindness of strangers made me a better person.”
By Jennifer, Patient, John C. Lincoln Breast Health and Research Center
The most unusual, unbelievable part of my experience is that I'm grateful that I got breast cancer. That sounds crazy, because having cancer was one of the hardest parts of my life. But as a result of cancer — after I got through the anger and the depression — I have become a different person, and I thank God.
Before I was diagnosed, I didn't trust people. I didn't have faith in others and I didn't have very many friends. After I was diagnosed, I met so many people who were so supportive and helpful, when they didn't have to be. Literally, the kindness of strangers restored my faith in people. It was awesome.
It started the minute I walked into the Breast Health and Research Center. I loved the way it looked, the pink décor. I took pictures right away and posted them to my Facebook page: "Look at my breast center! Isn't it swanky?" Even though I was scared and worried (I was there because I had found a lump and my doctor prescribed ultrasound and a diagnostic mammogram) I felt comfortable there, pampered with the plush robe, just like I was at home.
As soon as I had the ultrasound and the mammogram, I met with the breast center's medical director, Linda Greer, MD, and the center's clinical director, Sherry Gage, in Sherry's office. They told me I needed to schedule a needle biopsy. I didn't ask them a lot of questions because I knew they didn't have the answers yet, but they got me in for the biopsy within just a couple of days. The biopsy wasn't really a bad experience. It was a little uncomfortable, but I know I'd get answers, so it was worth it. And Dr. Greer said, "No matter what, I will call you tomorrow with the results." That meant a lot.
So the next day, around 4 p.m., I answered the phone and Dr. Greer asked, "Are you driving?" I wasn't, but I knew that meant the results were not good. She was very thorough in her explanations, which was good because I heard "cancer" and my brain went all hazy. I was fairly calm until she said someone else needed to talk with me, and she put me on hold for a moment. Then it hit me and I got hysterical.
Paulla Miller, the Breast Center's Education and Outreach Coordinator, came on to the phone and said "I'm a survivor and I got breast cancer when I was your age." I was 36. Paulla talked to me for 15 or 20 minutes even though I was crying so hard that I could hardly talk. But it meant so much to have someone who knew what I was feeling, what I was facing, someone who'd been there, because at that time I didn't have one survivor friend. I didn't know anyone who'd been through this.
Paulla and Mikala Edwards, the Community Educator for the Arizona Young Breast Cancer Support Initiative (who had cancer at 25) and Mindy Carpenter, the Initiative's Project Manager (who had cancer at 20) have all been such good friends. They understand my feelings; they get me. We're bonded. Also, Paulla found me resources when (being a divorced mom) I needed financial help. She even got HEAL to clean my apartment while I was having chemotherapy and that really made a difference.
And Dr. Greer saved my life. She really cares. I'm not just another insurance check and that's super important. Of course she has a good sense of humor, but she's phenomenal in the way she communicates. She puts things in terms I understood, and I felt that she understood and respected my anxiety. She was there for me.
Having cancer is never going to be good, but I feel that being diagnosed at the Breast Health Center is the best way to find out. There were dark days, hard days, but I never had to be alone. I'm a huge advocate of the Breast Health and Research Center, the patient care coordinator and the survivors who support each other. The camaraderie of a network of women who all understand each other changed my life.